JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Enrollment at East Tennessee State University’s Gatton College of Pharmacy has dropped steadily the past two years and a trustee expressed concern during a finance meeting Wednesday.
ETSU CFO B.J. King reviewed budget data during a board of trustees finance and administration committee meeting that also included a decision to leave 2022-23 undergraduate tuition and fees at the same rate as this year.
After rolling through ETSU’s main budget and those for the College of Medicine and Family Medicine (ETSU Physicians), all with increases, King arrived at the pharmacy school budget. The college is self-supporting, having been permitted by the state on the condition that it operate essentially as a private entity.
After starting the current fiscal year with a baseline budget of $9.6 million, the projection for 2022-23 is $8.3 million. Instruction, the largest line item by far, drops from $6.5 million to $5.8 million.
“We are writing down the revenue budget for next year based on the decline in enrollment,” King said.
“We’ve talked about … the impacts of the tuition cost for the college compared to the other public college in the state of Tennessee for pharmacy, so that’s having somewhat of an impact. We hope that’ll be rectified in the future.”
King was referring to a decision several years ago that allowed the state’s publicly funded pharmacy school in Memphis to offer in-state tuition to students from outside Tennessee.
Data provided by ETSU Wednesday afternoon showed that after years of steady enrollment, the number of students at Gatton declined the past two years — from 315 in 2019 to 281 in 2020 and then from 281 to 259 this school year.
“Most of the expenditure categories are taking a corresponding reduction with the revenue decline,” King said. She said a handful of faculty positions that had been vacant are being eliminated for the time being, dropping the school’s complement of professors from 35 to 30.
“That corresponds to the decline in enrollment but … there’s been no turnover in faculty.”
Trustee Steve DeCarlo, who chairs the finance committee, expressed concern near the end of the short meeting.
“I continue to worry about the College of Pharmacy, I know you do as well, but the disadvantages seem to be really showing up in the numbers more and more,” DeCarlo said.
ETSU President Brian Noland said the administration was doing all it could to try and convince the state to provide supplemental aid.
“Mr. Chair we continue to work with members of our legislative delegation to stress the importance that funding for Gatton could have not only on bottom line but most importantly on affordability for students,” Noland said. “I hope to be in a position to provide further updates for our board at our April board meeting.”
Contacted by phone after the meeting, State Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) said his colleague Gary Hicks of Hawkins County, chair of the House Budget Subcommittee, had introduced a budget amendment that would provide state funds to bridge the gap between tuition at Memphis and that at ETSU.
“I support a solution to this issue,” Hawk said, adding that it would likely come with a multimillion-dollar price tag.